In the world of “kiruv,” or “Jewish outreach” as it’s known (although kiruv literally means “bringing close”), there exist two “targets” of these efforts: unaffiliated Jews, and formally affiliated Jews who have “strayed from the path.” The contemporary Hebrew terminology for outreach to the former group is “kiruv rechokim” (“bringing close those who are distant”), while outreach to the latter has been dubbed“kiruv kerovim” (“bringing close those who are close”).
Ironically, however, I discovered that, according to Rashi, the prophet Isaiah reversed these terms:
“Hear, you who are far (‘rechokim’), that which I (G-d) have done; and know, you who are close (‘kerovim’), My might.” (Isaiah 33:13)
“‘you who are far’ — those who believe in Me and carry out My will from their youth; ‘you who are close’ — penitents (baaley teshuvah) who have recently come close to Me.”
So it seems, according to Rashi’s understanding of Isaiah, that those who only recently become observant of G-d’s commandments are called “kerovim” (“close”), while those who begin as observant Jews are called “rechokim” (“far”), as in having been observant a long time, having already travelled a long road in their observance. According to these definitions, our contemporary outreach terminology is completely reversed.
Another, more ironic meaning to find in Rashi’s words is that unfortunately too common phenomenon that those who are raised observant are often further from a truly inspired connection to G-d than those who have more recently discovered Torah Judaism. Baaley teshuvah feel a closeness to G-d, live more inspired lives and find meaning and happiness in their observant lifestyle, while those raised with ritual are desensitized, uninspired by habit-driven religiosity and rote observance.
Perhaps all Jews, those raised Torah observant and those not, could use a little kiruv in order to become true kerovim.